Dear Addiction, I Hate You: Part 2

Dear Addiction, I Hate You: Part 2

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Dear Addiction,

You won.

I stand defeated.

I surrender to the disease that has taken so much from me and my family. Although I have not personally been affected by using a substance, your dominion and control over those I love has caused me immense pain, suffering, and grief.

I do, at times, question if it was you alone who caused this level of epic annihilation of family relationships and bonds. I now wonder if ASPD (anti-social personality disorder) also played a role in the ultimate deterioration of my loved ones’ health, causing some to be permanently disabled. This diagnosis has formed in my mouth, many times, as I became more disillusioned at the complete disregard for human life displayed, coupled with the unwillingness to seek help, even when at “rock bottom”.

I realize that manipulation and dishonesty are a part of your control and hold on someone. Their world becomes very small with you in their presence. Access to you consumes their daily thought processes, and you are prioritized above a child’s welfare, a safe home environment, and the health of all involved.

Your power and hold is so strong that you nearly killed my loved one. Yet, they still went crawling back to you. You’ve stripped away their dignity. I have felt completely bewildered by the orchestrated chaos during times of active use, and have been enraged at the willful denial of those unable or unwilling to step into full awareness of the devastation caused by this disease. I have struggled to accept the lies that continue to disempower the young adults who have been given so little and have lost so much as a result of their chaotic and neglectful upbringing.

The dysfunction caused by you, and possibly a personality disorder, has left me isolated and without a family. I no longer feel safe around those I love. I feel my sense of “home” has been stripped of me.

I am ready to let go now and no longer breathe any more oxygen into a space that only leaves me winded, exhausted, and in despair. I know it is time. There is a growing part of me that is excited to walk through the open door and enter into a world that I have built for myself. One that is peaceful and full of people who value me. One where the sand isn’t constantly shifting.

Addiction, you may have taken my family from me, but I am restoring my peace and creating stronger boundaries. You have helped me in ways, in your display of epic dysfunction, realize that I was and am not to blame for the lack of love and commitment denied to me. This loss had very little to do with me in the end. You have reigned supreme for decades, wreaking havoc in the lives of those I loved. I chose to believe that I was to blame. Shouldering the blame made me feel more in control, giving me the false impression that I could behave in ways that would help facilitate change.

I stand corrected. I lay down my sword and walk away from the war that has left me drained and exhausted. I now am fully aware that I can only change myself.

I hate you, addiction.

But, even more than that, I hate the unresolved shame and pain that enables one to use. It’s hard work to heal from the trauma of the past. So many self-soothe in a variety of ways that not only is harmful to themselves, but prevents them from the true intimacy they deserve.

Addiction, You are a tricky bastard, robbing people from the gem that exists within, a lie that alienates them from themselves and others.

Oh, how I have raged at you. I have lost my dignity in your uncontrolled fire. I have stood at the edge, as you engulfed my family in flames, helpless and embittered. I have lost myself trying to save them from your merciless and murderous ways. I have fought tirelessly, watching loved ones lose their freedom, their potential, and even, their minds. I have wept and winced in pain from the despair and desperation of watching those I love become no longer recognizable. They have become shells of their former selves.

Yes, you are a unrelenting and tortuous disease that continually steals the lives and joy of your victims…And you did so with my family. And it made me very sick… for many years.

But, you will not have a victory over my life. I surrender and admit defeat for this chapter. Two decades of being part of your circus is enough. I will miss the dream of having a closer family. Yet, I am ready to accept the reality of “what is” and protect the budding peace and contentment I am finding within myself as a result of practicing self compassion and forgiveness.

Addiction, you have claimed many lives. But, you will not claim mine. I am moving beyond your grasp.

I will always talk honestly about how incredibly sick this disease has made me over the years. I endured chronic pain, anxiety, depression, angry outbursts, suicidal ideation, an exacerbation of my mood disorder, nightmares, etc. I reactively abused those I loved. I became manipulative, at times, in desperation to be visible and get my own needs met. I lost my dignity and was ashamed of how I responded. I lost employment opportunities. My health greatly deteriorated. I was even diagnosed with PTSD. I SUFFERED, IMMENSELY.

Addiction, our relationship is over. I broke up with you in the past, but this time I am going “no contact”. I am redirecting all my time and energy that has been used up “spinning” with you, and investing it in myself.

I look forward to what the future holds. It might be a bit lonely at first, but it won’t be chaotic or devaluing. I won’t be raging or losing my dignity while screaming alone in the dark.

I hope my writing helps others who are struggling in similar ways to not feel so alone. Those in the family who do not use, also need care and support. Many times addiction can seem like an impossible situation. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you haven’t handled it perfectly. I honestly will tell you I have been a mess the past few years. I was consumed by it and was taking on a responsibility that was not mine. I now have realized the complete lack of control I have and am finally releasing the reign it had on my life. It’s a slow process. But, it is possible.

I choose to “hate” addiction, the disease, NOT the addict. My hope will always be that members of my family who are struggling, fully heal. I am trying to do the same.

I know I am getting there. I know how hard it is and how much time it takes. But, I will continue waling towards freedom and peace. And as a result, I will have more of it in my life. It will continue to grow exponentially, until one day, I will look back and the pain of the past will be a distant memory. The present moment will be full of joy, laughter, and connection to healthy people in my life and to peaceful experiences. Quality of life over quantity is my goal going forward. Peace to all. I’m going to keep walking forward!

A Heavy Burden to Bear: When Lack of Access to Affordable and Quality Healthcare Compounds Complex Trauma

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With the current focus on mental health issues relating to the Coronavirus Pandemic, I feel this is an opportune time to have an honest and frank discussion regarding access to affordable and quality mental healthcare services in America. Those of us who have been struggling for years living with a mental illness, are all too familiar with the challenges of finding the help that we need to not only reach stability, but maintain it. Often the services and programs to support recovery are difficult to access and some are virtually non-existent or not affordable. Most of us with lived experience have managed to piecemeal our recovery efforts over time to sustain our recovery, but we are also aware that services and programs fall short to meet the needs of many and, as a result, some unfortunately do not ever recover.

One of the main triggers for my depression is the lack of concern for those living among us who are struggling with a mental illness and/or addiction issues that often leads to incarceration, disability, or homelessness. I am particularly sensitive to these issues because of my own life long struggle with mental illness. It is also distressing for me to see those living with addiction issues who experience homelessness or incarceration because I have loved ones who struggle with addiction and I am empathetic towards the issues surrounding the disease.

For the past two years, I have been living in Los Angeles and the level of homelessness here in the city is at epidemic proportions. It is disturbing, to me, to see so many living on the streets in such dismal and dire circumstances. While not all who are homeless struggle with issues of mental illness or addiction, many of them do. As a consumer of mental health services for nearly three decades, I know first hand how difficult treatment can be to access and how, often times, the quality of treatment is poor. Services rarely include the continuity of care that leads to and enables long term recovery. Too many people are slipping through the cracks and it becomes nearly impossible for these individuals to remain in recovery when society lacks the infrastructure needed to support those rebuilding their lives. Most who have never experienced accessing mental health services firsthand are unaware of how deeply fractured the system is and make judgments without having the lived experiences of attempting to do so. As an educated individual who is able to advocate for myself, I have often been appalled by the way I have been mistreated, and even defeated, at times, by the lack of services available that would support and facilitate my recovery.

Many services and programs are often laden with structural and attitudinal barriers that even the most skilled, experienced, and educated individual would have difficulty navigating. My hope in sharing my story is to demonstrate the complex interplay between the individual struggling and the programs and services that are sometimes unavailable or of poor quality. Many times people seeking help are dealing with not only the symptoms of their illness, but also the consequences of struggling for too long in a system that lacks the wrap around services to truly help them. They also may be experiencing shame and frustration from having people in their lives who lack the awareness of how difficult it is to access help, make the false assumption that they are “just not trying hard enough”. Many who do not suffer have the wrong impression that help is easily accessible and they unknowingly invalidate the individual struggling. Using my own struggle, I hope to bring awareness of how one individual over the course of many years might experience several damaging experiences and this can lead, over time, to mistrust and a hesitancy to reach out. I am fortunate to have a good therapist at the moment who validates my complex history which is unfortunately littered with many incidents where I “hit a wall” when attempting to access help. I hope the following resonates with some of those struggling and sheds light on how challenging it can be, at times, to access quality care. The difficulty of accessing quality medical care, the services and programs needed to enable recovery, and the protections meant to prevent disability discrimination can create a challenging and difficult road for an individual who is struggling to recover from a mental illness or addiction. Below, I discuss examples from my own life to help contextualize each of these struggles in hopes to spread awareness and cultivate empathy for those doing their best to access the needed treatment and services to heal.

Lack of access to quality medical care and treatment. This can present itself in a variety of ways. Here are some actual incidents that have occurred to me personally that not only were damaging, but caused a relapse in my symptoms of anxiety and depression. Beginning with the most severe and damaging incident causing a distrust in the system, to the least offensive causing a delay in access to care, the following are my own personal experiences as a an educated individual attempting to access quality care for the disorders I live with: Bipolar 1, PTSD, Somatic OCD, and ADHD.

  • Denied access to an inpatient care facility for crisis stabilization: I was once forced to leave inpatient care prematurely after only one day of receiving treatment. I had waited roughly 36 hours in the emergency room department to be assessed by a social worker and was later admitted to the inpatient psychiatric unit. Once admitted, I was able to sleep a few hours. I made the error of requesting to leave after feeling mistreated by one of the staff there. I immediately changed my mind and communicated my wishes to the staff as I knew deep down I needed the help and more than likely needed my medications adjusted. I also was waiting to receive a test that was ordered due to having breathing difficulties from a recent respiratory infection. The doctor there decided to discharge me, even though I was openly requesting help for the suicidal ideation that I was still experiencing. They forced me to leave treatment stating that if I did not leave, I would be ushered out of the inpatient unit by the hospital security. I was discharged with no medication change and the test that was ordered for my breathing difficulty was also not completed. This incident was probably the most damaging experience I have endured during all of my years of treatment for my mental health disorder. It not only placed me at increased vulnerability for a suicide attempt, but the hospital placed my physical health in jeopardy by not completing a test to determine why I was visibly having breathing issues.The incident was traumatizing and has made me not want to ever seek inpatient services again. I also felt powerless to do anything about the incident because I did not feel I would be believed. Other than to write a poor review of my experience on their Facebook page, I have taken no other actions and have moved my life forward.
  • Medical providers who have been unwilling to support workplace accommodations. I have had therapists or psychiatric providers who were unwilling to provide documentation to support my request of setting up accommodations in the workplace. This was particularly damaging because the delay caused by having to find a provider that would assist me in this way, lead to employers doubting that I had a disability that required accommodations. This also caused significant stress for me which only exacerbated my symptoms. Some providers are unwilling to assist in letters regarding unemployment claims or accommodations requests. This leaves the individual struggling with no real pathway to gain accommodations in the workplace unless one decides to change providers and this can take a lot of time.
  • Inability to afford or being waitlisted for needed healthcare services. I cannot count the amount of treatment opportunities (particularly recommended DBT classes) that were thwarted by lack of insurance or long waitlists. Many times I was willing and waiting for treatment to become available and the waitlist was either too long or it was too costly without my insurance providing payment.
  • Certain services that would be helpful are not covered by insurance companies. I was told over and over that residential care would be the most beneficial for me. And yet, my insurance through my workplace did not pay for this type of treatment. Plus, it would have been nearly impossible to get the time off of work required to complete the program. The cost was “out of reach” for me.
  • Denied access to needed treatment due to having to rely on Medicaid which often does not cover speciality care. While waiting on Medicare to “kick in” after being approved for disability insurance (SSDI), I was denied multiple needed treatments by Medicaid which caused my condition to worsen and my symptoms were exacerbated as a result. The process of waiting to receive access to quality care for both my physical and mental health for 2 years was a dehumanizing experience where I truly felt invisible and devalued. I was even suffering with a new medical condition that affected my swallowing whereby I had lost nearly 80 pounds in 6 months and I was denied multiple referrals to a gastroenterology specialty clinic. It was a terrifying experience to lose so much weight and not get the help I needed and it actually thwarted my initial plans to attempt working part-time. I was too sick and unable to get the care I needed through Medicaid. With Medicare in place now, I get the care I need and am grateful.

Lack of access to services/programs that facilitate recovery. Many of the program from housing, disability insurance, vocational rehabilitation, etc. are often inaccessible due to long waitlists or other factors. Below are some of my personal experiences trying to access these services and programs.

  • Being waitlisted for vocational rehabilitation services. When I lost employment due to being denied accommodations in the workplace, I immediately signed up for vocational rehabilitation services in the state of WA. I was approved for services, but waitlisted for nearly 3 years. By the time my name came up to be served, I had already moved out of the state with a friend in order to prevent homelessness. I consider myself lucky that I have people who have supported me when needed. Being in a state of vulnerability where I could not access the services to help me return to work, has made me more empathetic to those who do not have a “lifeline” and end up homeless.
  • The long wait time to be approved for social security disability benefits leaves the disabled more vulnerable to homelessness and loss of needed medical treatment. Waiting for disability insurance (SSDI) to be approved, was yet another dehumanizing experience that included many roadblocks that appear to be “set up” to deter people from gaining benefits. With determination and grit, I was able to get my benefits awarded in a little over a year. However, I know many more who wait 2 and 3 years and lose everything in the process while waiting.
  • Programs, like section 8 that helps low income adults afford housing, have long waitlists and are often difficult to access. I have attempted to learn about housing opportunities here in Los Angeles so that I can be independent again and begin working a part-time job. I was told by the Department of Mental Health and another social agency that in order to receive section 8 here in Los Angeles, I would need to be experiencing homelessness. I have placed a few more calls to request about other programs for low income individuals who are dependent on their disability insurance as their only means of income, but they have been very slow to get back to me. I realize I have to be persistent, but again not everyone struggling has my education level or access to the stability I have in housing to make contact in a consistent manner. They might not have access to reliable internet or a phone. Not everyone who is struggling is well enough to voice their needs and remain consistent in pursuing services.

Lack of protection when there is a denial of rights or services. Often when an individual living with a mental illness experiences discrimination in the workplace, a denial of treatment, or another abuse, it is too easy to discredit the individual as often the above can be difficult to “prove”. Many times people who struggle experience poor treatment or other damaging incidents, but they are unaware of their rights or even if they are aware, it is common due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness for a lawyer to decline representation to provide a remedy.

  • Workplace disability discrimination is more common than one might think and victims often are unaware of their rights or have difficulty gaining representation. I have experienced multiple incidents of workplace discrimination in the form of denied accommodations and even the refusal to engage in interactive discourse to facilitate the process of getting accommodations set up. This has lead to job loss, loss of housing, loss of health insurance, and ultimately a disruption in continuity of care. The entity where one can file a complaint of discrimination, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), is often very slow to act. It took a year for them to investigate a claim of discrimination that I reported and I was already in another place of employment when the investigation began. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the civil rights law that protects those living with a disability from discrimination in the workplace, however, it’s language is often not specific enough to provide true consequences for those engaging in discriminatory practices. More often than not, places of employment are able to escape the consequences of discrimination and this leaves the employee extremely vulnerable, having to pick up the pieces and move forward. Many people who experience discrimination in the workplace are fearful to defend themselves as they may need a descent reference or might wish to avoid other negative consequences of doing so.
  • There is little protection for those who experience mistreatment from a mental healthcare provider. One can file a grievance and I have, but I have never had anyone follow up with me. Lawyers are very hesitant to get involved because the stigma lends many to believe that those living with a mental illness may not be credible, particularly when in an inpatient setting. Obviously, reaching out to report can be re-traumatizing for the victim in and of itself, especially when the victim is not “believed”.

Many of my examples are more than likely relatable to so many living with a mental illness. And believe it or not, I have many more stories that I could share. These experiences compound upon one another, and, over time, truly “break” a person. It becomes harder to trust the system and more difficult to trust medical providers enough to open up again and risk being vulnerable in order to receive help.

Living through so many tough experiences, I feel compelled to speak out regarding these issues. Many times, people lack the compassion towards those struggling because they only are viewing the one incident that is being shown to them at a particular time. Life is complex and too often I see people minimizing an individual’s struggle because they are simplifying their experience by looking at only one incident. Living with a mental illness often comes with many layers of struggle from living with the stressors of income instability, job and relationship losses, and dealing with the shame that stigma causes for those struggling. All of this is in addition to managing the symptoms of their illness. More often than not, when someone is requesting help, they have been “kicked around” a bit in the system, told “No” a lot, and are truly trying. It is truly hard out there.

This begs the question: “Why do so many not care? Where is our humanity?” I view our world as the interplay between us, the environment, and the systems we create to support a healthy relationship between the two. When we have many homeless living on our streets, we have to ask ourselves, how healthy is our society? Perhaps, those struggling with mental illness are more aware of these issues because some are faced with these risks and this makes them more attuned to the struggle. It is just a thought. My experiences over time have truly cultivated empathy. It hurts to see so many living on the streets. I personally know how hard it is to access the few services that exist to help people and I’m aware that the care is not always of stellar quality. I am acutely aware that had I not had a support system in place, I, too, may be at risk for homelessness.

I also am aware that many who struggle with issues of addiction were raised in families where their parents struggled in similar ways. The system failed to serve them as children and now they are adults mirroring what they have learned. Our society often devalues those who are currently incapable of contributing. And yet, the infrastructure simply isn’t there to help people to contribute. I am educated, persistent, and able to advocate for my needs and it was still impossible, at times, for me to receive the help I needed. As a result, I ended up relapsing and now I even have other physical illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, IBS, and migraines, that I feel are a culmination of living with an illness for so long and never “catching a break”.

I know in my heart that we have enough resources, talent, and creativity to address the problems of mental health issues and addiction that are now both at epidemic proportions. I feel if I want to see change in my community that I have a personal responsibility to act and to voice my concerns. Perhaps, in doing so people will become more aware of the challenges in addressing these issues, as they are complex and multi-layered. Isn’t it time to truly tackle mental healthcare in a creative way that not only changes lives, but changes our community and world? I would wager a guess that most people who do not see the value in serious mental healthcare reform would feel that it is too costly. In reality, the cost of the programs and services created to help families and individuals in need would be more than paid for by the decrease in rates of incarceration, disability insurance, and other medical costs incurred by individuals requiring repeated care due to relapse, etc. Investing in those who are struggling and early intervention/prevention will provide for less dependence overall.

Many times I can hear in people’s tired voices, who indicate that they are depressed, that they don’t know how to put their struggle into words. That is is “too much”. I hope by articulating my struggle I have shaved off a bit of the “iceberg’ so to speak that keeps so many of us immobile. It is too much and we shouldn’t have to work so hard to receive the treatment and services we need to help us truly recover. Society has a responsibility to meet us half way. No one is an island and the more we work collectively to address these systemic issues, the healthier our entire society will be. Our wealth, power, and sense of community is only as strong as our most vulnerable members living within it. How we treat those struggling is the difference between a decaying society and one that is flourishing, truly “rich”, and healthy.

I have hope in humanity. We are resilient and innovative. I hope by sharing my own complicated struggles that some become aware of the different issues impacting many of us who are still paddling at the surface, treading water. Give us a hand, pull us to shore. Be willing to listen. Many of us are willing to share, work, and engage with you. The struggle of so many has been weighing heavy on my heart this year and this is hopefully just the beginning of my own role as an advocate.

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A Sibling’s Open Letter to the Deadly Disease of Addiction

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The last few years have been particularly difficult for me. I’ve had to disengage from my family due to their struggle with severe and persistent addiction. My sister and all of her adult children have struggled for more than a decade with substance abuse issues, causing severely strained relationships, disability, and even the recent loss of custody of my two great nephews. 

I wrote the letter below to help me process the pain of essentially losing my family to the very serious and deadly disease of addiction. Two of my family members are now disabled with severe and persistent mental illness due to their use of methamphetamines. None of my nieces and nephews are employed, nor did any of them receive their high school diplomas. My mother and I are no longer in communication because her denial and enabling over the years has fractured our relationship. I’ve had to disengage and take a break so that I can heal and begin to recover from the loss. 

Addiction truly is a family disease and it affects everyone in the family. I have found Nar-Anon to be a valuable resource for support and information for family members struggling to cope and heal with the presence of addiction in the family. Nar-Anon, adapted from Narcotics Anonymous, is a worldwide group whose members are family and friends who are concerned about a loved one’s struggle with substance abuse. Here is their website: https://www.nar-anon.org.   

Here is my letter to this deadly disease.

Dear Addiction

I hate you. 

I hate what you have done to those I love. You’ve taken their lives and ruthlessly thrown them into the fire, watching them burn, with indifference. You truly are the living embodiment of hell on earth.

Addiction, I hate you.

I loathe the day you waltzed in promising my sister that you would make things so much better for her. Rolling out the red carpet, giving her the royal treatment, and romancing her so she would get hooked. All the lies you fed her, knowing that when it was all said and done, another soul would be stolen and another victim, left, scrambling, sweating, sick on the floor, begging for more. All the times you gave her and others the false impression that they could easily let go of you, when and if they desired, knowing that your physical dependence would imprison & enslave them.

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate the power you hold over those I love, and what they gave up when you finally secured a place in their soul. They gave up their identity and called themselves “addicts”, enslaving themselves to a lifetime of using and shame. You don’t deserve those victimized by you. You’re not only taking lives, you’re robbing millions of their potential and peace. Their waking hours are spent fixated on you, and how to remain in your “good graces”.  Some will steal, lie, and destroy relationships to maintain your presence in their lives.

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate what you do to families, ripping them apart. I hate that your destruction causes bewilderment and confusion, leaving people uncertain whether to confront or enable. Often, children, affected by your disease, will defend you and may even grow up somewhat complacent and numb to the chaos you have created. You sit back waiting, chomping at the bits to claim another victim. Children, raised in an environment where you reign, are particularly vulnerable. 

Addiction, I hate you.

You tell your victim lies, entrapping them in shame and self-loathing, many times causing them to discard their loved ones who confront their drug use. You mock those who are to trying to keep your victims safe. Those screaming in the distance are muted by the noise you cause, that continually deafens and disorients your victim. 

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate you for destroying my family bonds. As the flames grew higher, and the devastation reached epic proportions, some of us screamed louder, while others have enabled more and shrunk back in denial. I’ve screamed so much that my voice has become hoarse, hitting a brick wall, reverberating around this dark chamber that has become all too familiar. I’ve been sent to the dungeon, cold and alone, by the loved ones who you have claimed as your victims. Nothing penetrates the walls you’ve built, keeping the victim in a vicious cycle, enslaving them, encouraging them to justify their actions that serve you, and you alone. You’ll have your victim admit that they are powerless, but your allure will entice them to forever stand close to the fire. The fire is never entirely extinguished.  I have become disillusioned and have danced around the flames, sometimes raging, and other times desperately trying to reach you. And you discard me once again.  

Addiction, I hate you. 

Through the years of my experience knowing you, I have doubted my own reality. I have looked through the eyes of the victim and no longer know if it is you or my sister that I am staring at and this devastates me. Her adult kids have now all been touched by your fire and are struggling as we speak.

Addiction, I hate you.  

If one ever tries to cut ties with you, you hold on like a bitch with nails, clinging, taking the life out of them. You torture them with beatings and lashings, as they hurl you from their body, clinging to the toilet, and sinking on the floor, sweating. “I’ll teach you never to leave me!” You snarl and spit in their face, sometimes hijacking their minds with hallucinations and delusional thinking.  

No, it’s hell to leave you.  

You do not want to relinquish your control.

Addiction, I hate you.  

And when the dust settles, there is stillness. And then, there is the dealing with the aftermath while the cravings for you are forever present, occupying a permanent space in the victim’s mind.    

Addiction, I hate you.  

And, if all of this is not enough, your victims wear the label of “addict”, having to rebuild, often ashamed and remorseful. There are some who have been sitting at your table for so long they have lost themselves. Your presence can cause changes to the brain that may lower empathy and create cognitive issues. I am perpetually oscillating between the extremes of trying to help and becoming angry and aggressively confronting . I am seen as harsh and cruel, when really I am sad and scared. I have become an indirect victim, my moods and perceptions often altered by this deadly, intoxicating dance. 

Addiction, I hate you.  

Because of you, I am letting go of my family. Not just my sister, and her family, but my mother as well. It’s getting too hard to keep trying, only to be devalued and discarded. The pain has become too intolerable for my mother. She compensates with enabling and denial which only serves to further isolate me, while those I love become increasingly more sick. I sometimes lose my dignity in anger and rage, saying things I know will only cause me more shame and sadness. I begin to wonder and fear if some victims ever reach full recovery from you. 

And, then, I hate on you some more. 

Addiction, I hate you. 

Your reign in my life is over. I have truly tried to save my sister and her kids from your very ugly, abusive ways, but it is up to them to ride this dangerous storm out and do what is necessary to seek help and change. I will remain hopeful that they one day they have the strength and perseverance to eradicate you from every inch of their lives. You have absolutely no place in mine. I will be more healthier in the end, letting go, healing, and remaining available, when and if any are ready to heal.

Goodbye, addiction.  

I’ve learned that those who leave you, must be the one to cut ties. No one can do it for them. I hope to one day stand on the other side of you, with my family, free from the pain and suffering you’ve created.

Addiction, I hate you.
Our story is complete.

Letting Go of the Shame Caused by Stigma

Me and Gracie!

That’s me above, and my pup, Gracie.  This picture was taken nearly 5 years ago while I was still working.  I was living in Seattle, WA at the time, and working in a long term facility as a recreation therapist (CTRS).  And, trust me, even while donning a huge smile, I was severely anxious and struggling! 


Since then, I’ve been approved for SSDI and have been focusing on rebuilding my health, one day at a time. My  hope is to live gracefully with my illnesses of: Bipolar I, PTSD, ADHDOCD, and PMDD. I have learned to accept my illness and am acquiring new skills and approaches to cope more effectively.
 
The suffering I’ve endure related to my mental illness has been amplified by the stigma and the shame surrounding it.  It has taken me years to separate myself from the symptoms that my illness has caused and the stigma that is perpetuated by those who lack the awareness and sensitivity to understand my struggle. The shame I feel from having an illness has significantly decreased over time, as I have worked to cultivate acceptance and compassion for my struggle.
  
The “stigma and shame” surrounding the “suffering” can, at times, exacerbate the severity of my illness. It has taken years of healing to separate the “suffering” from the “stigma” and the “shame” that often accompanies mental illness. I share in the following paragraphs how the suffering, which is often biological for me, has been impacted by the stigma I’ve faced, which inadvertently causes shame. Being able to see these as independent from one another, has allowed me to move further along in my healing process. 
        
What do I mean by my “suffering”? 

My “suffering” is my life-long struggle with an illness that causes chemical changes in my brain that are often difficult for me to manage and control. I never chose to be mentally ill, not for a certain time period, or even for a day! In fact, my illness began when I was in the “prime” of my life! I was captain and MVP of the swim team, had a leading role in the school musical, and was well supported by my friends and church. Like many others who struggle, I was active and involved prior to the onset of my mental illness. My illness began around my sophomore year, and it crept along, gaining momentum, until one day it was painfully obvious to others that something was just “not right”.  In my case, my struggle presented itself as a combination of symptoms that included: obsessive & intrusive thoughts, delusions, anxietypanic attacksdepression, and disassociation. I was acutely aware that my thought processes were somewhat “off” and I decided, on my own, to seek treatment. It was unsettling to me at the time and caused me much distress.
  
I have often made the comparison that my “suffering” is much like having an onslaught of bad “side effects” to a prescribed medication, except that the symptoms are often more severe than that of side effects and the onset and duration of symptoms can be unpredictable and uncertain. For example, too much caffeine may cause some to experience symptoms comparable to mild mania in that they may be: edgy, anxious, irritable, energetic, even euphoric, etc.  Their mind might even race and they may feel overly optimistic about what they can accomplish.  Depression can feel somewhat like taking too much Benadryl for an allergy attack: one can feel foggy, exhausted, excessively sleepy, and withdrawn.  In drawing these comparisons, I am trying to help a person who doesn’t suffer understand that the symptoms are not only biological, like side effects that must wear off, but they are also difficult to “snap out off”.  Unfortunately, for the sufferer, it is not as easy as discontinuing a medication to stop the unwanted side effects. 
  
Thus, my “suffering” is a lot like clipping along and doing “ok” and then being suddenly blindsided by a cycle of unwanted “side effects” in which there is no escape.  Sounds like a personal hell, right?  It is. This is the suffering that most people (unless they experience it) do not understand, while some others do not even acknowledge. Medication and other approaches (mediation, therapy, etc.) can sometimes alleviate or decrease symptoms, but many of us suffer for years, on and off, endlessly trying to “escape” a chemical imbalance that causes the illness.  

The Stigma: 

Unfortunately, because mental illness is often misunderstood, I’ve had to “suffer” in world that stigmatizes and shames those struggling.  There are many people that question the validity of mental illness and have unfair and unrealistic expectations of those struggling. I can remember being released from my first hospital stay and friends laughing at me or telling me I just need to “snap out of it”. I even had a counselor in college who told me, I needed to “pull my boots straps up, and try harder”. Obviously, this caused me immense shame as I blamed myself when I struggled to control my moods or manage my level of anxiety. This compounded my anxiety and depression as I felt ostracized from others and would resort to “self-loathing” when my illness became episodic and I couldn’t “snap out of it”. I often blamed myself and became more alienated. I was diagnosed before the internet was in existence and couldn’t reach out to “social media” or on-line groups for support.  
  
Often people who have a mental illness feel that they must hide their struggle from the workplace, for fear of retaliation. I remember after being initially diagnosed in the early 90’s with Bipolar 1, I was told to “hide” my diagnosis from others, particularly in the workplace. This only served to ramp up my anxiety as I struggled to keep everything “sucked in” and hidden from view. I have even lost jobs and experienced discrimination in the workplace when requesting help in the form of accommodations. My struggle was often viewed as not credible and I was seen as a “troublemaker” or an “attention seeker”.
  
The stigma surrounding those struggling with a psychiatric disorder, often prevents people getting help in the workplace and seeking treatment. The effects of stigma can be devastating and can mean job losses and access to adequate care.  Many of the failures stemming from those suffering are not the fault of the individual struggling, but of the inadequate and unjust system that perpetuates stigma and negative stereotypes.  

The Shame:

The stigma can lead to a deep level of shame. Without others having the awareness and/or sensitivity of my illness, of which I felt I had to “hide”, there were times I was misunderstood. I might have been seen as haughty or short when I had to disappear quickly to manage an escalating panic attack. I may have been viewed as uninterested or unmotivated on a day when I was struggling with my depression. My symptoms were often misinterpreted as my personality, and this caused me conflicts with others. In time, I could see clearly that my illness had robbed me of my potential in the workplace, but NOT of my talent, motivation, experience, or passion. It was often how I decompensated during times of stress, due to my illness, that wrecked me. And my frantic efforts to to feign “normalcy” only exacerbated things, until I just “quit” abruptly, or began missing too much work.
 
These lived experiences of struggling, experiencing stigma, and then feeling shame, ultimately caused me to respect my illness, for what it truly is: a devastating biological illness that affects my mood and perceptions which is often visibly seen through my behaviors. I began to see the distinction between myself, when I am suffering, and myself when I am not. I started to challenge myself in the midst of my suffering to let go of the shame that I had relating to my behavior when sick.  I could see that focusing on the negative behaviors that arise during an episode, often served to keep me hooked in a cycle of shame and regret.  Instead, I decided to give the illness the respect it deserved and I spent time finding ways to aggressively fight it and keep it at bay. 
 
If you are like me, if will more than likely rear its ugly head again, but this time when it does, I have decided to forgive myself, instead of lamenting the mistakes made when chained against my will, and suffering with a serious mental illness. Now, I get busy working to “get ahead” of the next episode.  I’ve decided to be like a hunter and become skilled at tracking it down, intercepting it, hopefully before it escalates too much. And even, if I become ill, and things “get messy”, I quickly return to practicing self compassion and respecting the chronic mental illness that I live with that takes immense effort to manage effectively. 

I’ve learned through a lot of years of tears and immense pain, that I don’t have to be ashamed anymore. I also acknowledge that many people are going to misunderstand my illness and there is only so much I can do to educate and inform others. My hope is through writing I can help others better understand what it has been like struggling now for nearly 32 years with a severe and persistent mental illness. And, I am immensely proud of the courage and persistence I espouse, despite the often insurmountable odds I’ve faced living in a world that is still sometimes not accepting or sensitive to my struggle. I hope this helps others. If it does, I am even more grateful for what I’ve lived through and survived. 

Holding onto Hope for Your Recovery

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I have never struggled with substance abuse. I have struggled with an addiction of another type, gambling. I once had to ban myself from all nearby casinos. I still struggle sometimes, but it is not much of a problem anymore.
On the other hand, many in my family have struggled for years with chronic and severe addiction. I love them and I know it is a disease, yet, my heart has been broken more times than I can count from this family affliction. It has taken time and years from our family and caused a lot of friction, distance, and worry.
Somehow, every now and again, they resurface and contact is again granted to me. This time it is a loss of custody of their 2 children. It is really important for them to recover and remain sober if they want to regain custody. We are in the space of not knowing if the disease will win or not. There is someone I love very much wrestling with the decision of going to rehab this very night.


And so, I just wanted to put this out there.
To anyone struggling with addiction:


Please know that you are loved deeply. There will always be someone who longs for you to resurface and recover. Even in the darkest of storms where you feel the high tide will overcome you, there is still hope. I say this because I have seen it happen. Not with my family, yet. But, I always hold out a small flicker of hope, always being fanned by the breathe of life and love that dwells deep within all of us. Love is stronger than the devastation caused by this disease. This I do know.
I have been guilty of lashing out when losing so many of my loved ones to this disease. Many holidays spent alone, in tears, in anguish. Many harsh words spit from my tongue. And still yet, I will always soften to the possibility and the hope that someday they will resurface. That I can laugh with them again and reunite. That we can spend time with ease, not tension, where I have to hold my breathe.
This is not to guilt anyone. The disease is real and it affects the entire family. Remember that. Those who are hurting and lashing out in fear and helplessness when addiction has taken hold, are also afflicted with the same disease. Practice self compassion. Soften to the truth that it is a true disease. Take the time to heal, to forgive yourself, and others. And remember, you are loved.

It is just one step… at a time… asking for help. You don’t need to know all the answers. No one holds them. We are all just searching in the end.


I hope someone struggling reads this and decides to make that difficult choice to get help, now. I promise someone is longing for you to resurface. And rediscovering yourself will be the greatest gift.

YOU deserve that.
Love and light to you. Let’s keep the hope and faith alive.